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He stole that first Les Paul.

The way Travis told the story, years later, he was sorry, and went back with his first gig money to pay the store owner, only to find that whole row of shops had burned down.

There’s probably a grain of truth in there somewhere, but you’ve got to remember Travis was a guy whose whole life centred around improvising and making it sound good.

Like that “Me and Sunburst Betty” album from last year – that “one guitar all my career” stuff was utter bullshit, but the fans lapped it up. They weren’t there, seeing the nicks and scratches applied to a succession of Betty replacements and spares. There was a “damage template”,  for fuck’s sake, and that dark tobacco sunburst conveniently hid the swap from all but a few conspiracy dweebs.

It’s been more than one guitar. It’s been at least a few dozen, all Gibsons, as identical as my Dad could make them.

I know. I know too much, and I wish I didn’t.

The only thing I know for sure is that all those Bettys used the same three-position switch when Travis played them.

One of the reasons Dad, Dave Stringer, worked so long as Travis’s personal tech was that he could replace a broken G on the current Betty in the time it took for the drummer to tell one of his guaranteed-to-get-a-groan jokes.There was a book of those, and all the drummers had to have one ready.

Another reason was Dad’s reticence. That switch was the Coca-Cola Formula at the core of the Travis T Poesen machine, and there were other secrets too, damn my father.

Like the black drink’s logo changed, a succession of drummers and bassists came to Travis from obscurity, eventually fading back into obscurity. That magazine which eventually tracked me down couldn’t find one of them.

Dave Stringer was a Betty, too, or maybe a patsy. We were never close, and I don’t look like him.

If I was the gambling type, I’d put money on Travis being responsible for a lot of things, including Mom’s troubles, and me.

That’s going to remain a moot question now, though. Mom’s been gone nearly twenty years.

Travis won’t be talking. Who knows what the motivation was, leaving Betty with Dad, and going out with one of those digital modelling guitars on a solo tour called “Playing My Own Way”?

Travis used to joke that Betty “had all the talent”.

The tour flopped. He either suicided, hung himself on purpose, or slipped during one of those half-choked masturbation sessions some jaded dudes try.

Perhaps he was feeling a scar where his conscience used to be. I mean, those “private guitar lessons” that were supposed to be a secret, even if everybody else on the bus knew. Your own daughter, dammit!

Magazine didn’t get more than a “Go away!” out of me either. I hope Jan wasn’t too displeased.

I’d left Lucille Stringer behind years ago, anyhow. It was that or take Mom’s way out, the big sleep.

Sure, Lucille couldn’t go on. I mean, fuck – named for a guitar, with the last name of a spineless lackey whose job was his title?

Yeah, even down to the liberties lords take with the peasantry.  Mom didn’t say much, but I think I understand now.

Maybe I should have come up with a better name, but I had to think quick. It was Lucienne Stronger who got the first job, and it was easy to change the papers I had just a little bit, in those days before everything was cross-checked.

I’m Lucienne Stronger on the papers of my apartment and the bar I run. I’m Luce to those I know.

After I got off the tour bus that last time, I told a lot of lies, but I left the big lie, and its liars behind. I was hoping it was for good.

I’ve put a lot of truth back into life in those years. I eventually admitted that nobody could live up to my trust issues forever, and that my life was a solo gig.

The job doesn’t mean I sacrifice my principles, either. My workers do okay before tips, and nobody stays long if they pull any dick moves.

Ruth doesn’t work for me, but her name opens doors if you ask at the bar. There’s a back entrance, and cab drivers I know, for anyone who has trouble they’d rather leave without.

I don’t know what happened to that guy who tried to slip roofies into that girl’s drink a few months ago, and I’m not sorry the newsreader named the bar on air when they searched for him. My place is safe, unless you’re a danger.

And if anybody on that tiny stage played Travis T Poesen numbers, up to now, I just counted my luck and the years I’d been free.

But I wasn’t, fuck it. I wasn’t.

I keep busy with my present, and try to make sure I have a future. There’s a few kids on staff, and in my neighborhood, who I’d like to see get a future too.

I can’t win ’em all, but I owe karma because I dodged the bus.

Now I’m only here because Dave Stringer somehow kept tabs on me, and I’m the listed contact they called when the ambulance took him away from where he’d fallen, right at this workshop bench.

The paramedics say, basically, that Dave is now deaf, blind and speechless. I don’t know about his financial arrangements, but the medical bills can have the house. I’m admitting nothing, and I won’t be back.

The last thing he would have seen or heard is Betty #144, or whatever. It’s still on the bench, and the back’s off the switch cavity at the top.

The old, battered road case is nearby. From the look of it, that thing’s been working since Betty #1. It has a few papers inside. Among them is a Canadian birth certificate for a Lucille Mae Poesen, which I tuck away in my jacket.

That might come in handy some day.

As for the rest, I’m taking the guitar and a few bottles of vodka into the backyard, to the outdoor grill.

Time for a real sunburst finish.

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